Wednesday, April 29, 2015

FEAST (2014)

RELEASE DATE: Friday 7th November 2014
SYNOPSIS: Winston, a stray Boston Terrier puppy, gets adopted by a single bachelor and lives the high life, eating everything that comes his way. But when the big guy starts showing more interest in a lady than his faithful pup, things start to go a little rocky...

SHENZI: I love this! It's like the circle of life.

PASCAL: You're right, it rotates back to where it started. It's so CUTE! It's amazing how well they can tell a story without words.

MALEFICENT: It's a beautiful story.

IRVYNE: They must have had a lot of reference footage of adorable little doggies. Winston is such a believable character. Every little whine, every lick, every little movement just melts your heart.

PASCAL: He eats so much food, but he doesn't get fat!

IRVYNE: Yeah, when I first saw this, I was expecting him to turn into this grossly overweight dog because of all the human food he was being fed. Kind of like that episode of Simon's Cat...

MALEFICENT: Winston must have been taken for lots of walks to burn off all of the food.

IRVYNE: This short movie won the Academy Award AND the Annie Award for Best Animated Short Film, being the second of the modern Disney era to win the Oscar in that category. Do you know something I just discovered while researching that? Pixar, with its extensive catalogue of BRILLIANT animated shorts, has only ever won the Oscar twice as well. The first win was for Geri's Game in 1997 and then For The Birds in 2001. I wonder if it will be Pixar or Disney who reach a third Oscar first!


Saturday, April 25, 2015

FROZEN (2013)

RELEASE DATE: Wednesday 27th November 2013

Frozen is a phenomenon. It has easily eclipsed the earnings of any animated film in history. Think about that for a second... EVERY SINGLE ANIMATED FILM. Nothing has made as much money as Frozen. It's like everything Walt ever accomplished was leading up to this film. (Although to be fair, if you account for inflation, The Lion King is still top cat...)

Like many other Disney successes, this film was created through hardship and difficulty. It was supposed to be a film about The Snow Queen, Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale. For decades, Disney had been trying to turn The Snow Queen into an animated feature, but they just couldn't quite crack the story. (It's not dissimilar to the problems they faced with Rapunzel, where the classic fairy tale just wasn't offering the right amount of drama and excitement to work as a film)

Let's look at the original story. Two inseparable childhood friends Kai and Gerda, are torn apart when a fragment of an evil troll's magic mirror gets stuck in Kai's eye. Suddenly Kai is aggressive and mean, which upsets Gerda. Not long after, Kai is kidnapped by the wicked and emotionless Snow Queen and taken away to her palace of ice. Gerda goes on a dangerous journey, visiting the Lady of Summer and following any hint that might lead her to the Snow Queen. Eventually a reindeer called Bae leads her to the frozen palace where she finds Kai, as cold as ice and trying to solve a sliding puzzle that the Snow Queen has left for him. Gerda's tears melt Kai's heart and he begins to cry, dislodging the splinter in his eye in the process. They solve the puzzle and go home again.

Soooo... sounds just like Frozen, right? Not at all! While Frozen could certainly claim to be "inspired" by Andersen's Snow Queen story, the plot itself bears no resemblance to it at all! So while I was angry with Disney for changing the name of Rapunzel to "Tangled," I have no problems at all with the title of this one being Frozen, since it's not The Snow Queen anyway. It's a completely original story. I'd be more upset if it HAD been called The Snow Queen!

Walt himself tried to find a way to translate Andersen's tale to the screen in the 1940s, but he never found the right angle. Apparently while voicing Yao in Mulan, Harvey Fierstein attempted to piece together a new version of the story, but Disney didn't go with it. Glen Keane also tried to play around with it, but his efforts never came to fruition.

In the early 2000s The Snow Queen was in pre-production. It was to be a hand-drawn movie, and Alan Menken had been signed up to write the songs. But still the teams were having some major issues with the story. Their problem was, if they strayed too far away from Andersen's original, it wasn't The Snow Queen anymore. In 2006, this version of the movie was scrapped and it was instead planned to be designed as a stage-show for Tokyo DisneySea.

"Love Can't Be Denied," a song written by Alan Menken for The Snow Queen

Then, somewhere along the way, that idea was scrapped as well and The Snow Queen went back into being a movie. Menken was out, and the Lopezes were in. Chris Buck was given the director's reins (which he would later go on to share with Jennifer Lee) and they tried and tried once again to make this story work. The lightning bolt moment apparently came when someone suggested that the Snow Queen could be the main character's sister. Suddenly everything in the story started falling into place and it was all downhill from there.

In the final version of the story that reached cinema screens, we begin with a platoon of men cutting up ice. A young orphan boy named Kristoff and his reindeer friend Sven try to copy the men.

In the kingdom of Arendelle, two princesses sneak into the ballroom in the middle of the night. The oldest girl, Elsa, uses her magic powers to build a playground out of snow. When one of her spells misses its mark and hits her sister Anna in the head, she realises she has done something terrible.

Anna is taken to some local trolls for help. The trolls remove all memory of Elsa's powers from Anna's head. From that day onward, Elsa distances herself from her sister, so as not to hurt her again.

As the years pass and Elsa struggles to maintain control of her powers, the king and queen die on a voyage at sea. Unable to connect with her only remaining family member, Anna is left to grieve alone.

More years pass. The day arrives for Elsa to be crowned queen. Visitors flock to Arendelle to catch a glimpse of the reclusive royal family. After a sleep-in, Anna jumps into action.

While Anna joyously wanders the kingdom, Elsa prepares for her coronation, terrified that the stress of the moment will make her powers manifest.

Anna bumps into a handsome stranger, Prince Hans of the Southern Isles. It is love at first sight. Elsa manages to get through her coronation without any major incidents. That night a grand ball is held in the new queen's honour.

Hans and Anna spend the night talking and falling in love, to the point where Hans asks for her hand in marriage. When the ecstatic Anna tells the news to her sister, she is none too impressed, stating that Anna can't marry a man she just met.

After an argument, Elsa accidentally lets some of her magic loose in front of everybody, before fleeing the kingdom and unwittingly setting off a sudden winter. Anna decides to go after her.

Realising that she is finally free of everything that ever concerned her, Elsa begins to experiment with her new powers, building a magnificent castle on the side of the North Mountain.

Anna comes across Oaken's Trading Post (and sauna) and goes inside to stock up on winter supplies. There she encounters Kristoff, who promptly gets kicked out of the shop. Seizing the moment, Anna employs Kristoff and Sven to take her up the mountain.

After a daring escape from a pack of wolves in which Kristoff's sled is destroyed, they come across a living snowman named Olaf, who was apparently made by Elsa. He explains how much he wants to experience summer.

Finally arriving at Elsa's palace, Anna attempts to get her sister to reverse the spell, but she has no idea how to. In her fear and panic, Elsa accidentally shoots ice into Anna's heart, before getting her gigantic bouncer (called "Marshmallow") to kick everyone out.

Kristoff takes Anna and Olaf to meet his friends the trolls, in the hope that they might know what to do. The trolls are overjoyed that Kristoff has brought a girl home, and immediately set up a wedding ceremony.

Meanwhile, Hans has led an expedition to the North Mountain in an attempt to apprehend Queen Elsa. The Snow Queen will not be taken easily though, and she uses her ice magic to intimidate and frighten the invaders. In the end she is caught and brought back to Arendelle in chains.

Meanwhile, the effect of the magic on Anna's heart is getting worse. Kristoff rushes her back to Arendelle after the trolls suggest that true love can break the spell. Unfortunately, Hans reveals that he was never really in love with her; it was just a ruse so that he could claim the throne for himself.

Olaf unlocks the door to Anna's room and suggests that maybe Kristoff is her true love. Meanwhile, Kristoff has had the same thought and rushes back to save the day.

As Elsa's inner turmoil creates a fierce blizzard all over the kingdom, Hans attempts to kill her and take over Arendelle. His efforts are stopped by Anna, who turns to ice from the curse on her heart.

Through the act of sisterly love, the curse is broken and Anna thaws. Seeing this, Elsa realises how to reverse her spell; by being loving! (or something...) Olaf is given his very own flurry to ensure he won't melt, and Hans gets what's coming to him.

Everything is back to normal. Queen Elsa has learned to control her powers and for now, Arendelle is a safe and happy kingdom.

So yes. The only way Disney could make "The Snow Queen" story work, was to throw it away. This is not "The Snow Queen." It bears absolutely no resemblance to Hans Christian Andersen's story. The only single similarity is that yes, there is a Snow Queen. That's it.
That's not to say that the story's bad though. It's actually really quite good. The characters are great, there's some genuine thrills and mysteries, and it has a few twists and turns that might be unexpected to people anticipating a traditional fairy-tale.
I do have a few grievances though, and while they're minor (the film is wonderful!) I think they hold Frozen back from being one of the all-time Disney greats.
For one, there are a number of plot setups that simply go unfulfilled. Olaf, for example. Within the first few minutes of his character's reveal, he sings a song about wishing it was summer, and Kristoff says, "someone's gotta tell him!" Sounds like a great setup for some huge revelation later in the film, where Olaf would be told that summer means his death. Nope, that never happens. When he looks into the fireplace and begins to melt, it's like he already understands everything and is perfectly okay with it.
As a consequence, the character of Olaf - while hilariously played by Josh Gad - really serves no plot purpose at all. He's just... there. I'm all for fun Disney sidekicks, but they need to be actually integrated into the story.
Another missed opportunity is with the Snow Queen herself, Elsa. After singing one of the greatest songs in Disney history ("Let It Go") she is set up for a fantastic story arc. We're being promised a new Elsa; an Elsa that is strong, independent, powerful and unpredictable. But that character is never really shown. I wanted to see Elsa rampage with an icy fury! I wanted to see her become the Snow Queen from the original story; cold-hearted and a bit scary! But no, once Anna shows up at the door, Elsa is fairly friendly, then she goes back to her old "I'm-scared-of-myself" character again.
I'd love to see an extended cut of this movie where Elsa is truly set free. It's very unlikely to happen in the sequel, since by the end of this movie she has become a nice, friendly, loving sister.
These gripes aside, Frozen is still a thoroughly enjoyable movie. I don't think the story flows as well as Tangled, but it's still up there as a high-quality addition to the second Disney Renaissance.

Using Norway as inspiration, the Disney artists have created a beautiful world in Arendelle. Like Tangled, Frozen uses a stunning colour palate, although with the snow theme, a lot of the movie is made up of whites and blues; it doesn't have the saturated story-book style of Tangled.
The big-eyed character models fit right in with Tangled's world as well... So much so, if you look carefully you might see a very special foreign visitor coming to visit Arendelle for Queen Elsa's coronation...!

The computer programs built to create snow and ice allow for some beautiful visuals, especially on Elsa's palace. I wish more of the movie could have been spent there, because it is so amazing to look at!

Robert Lopez came to fame through the naughty off-Broadway production "Avenue Q" which he co-wrote with Jeff Marx and won two Tony Awards for.
Since then, Lopez has worked with his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez on writing songs for the 40-minute "Finding Nemo" musical that plays in the Animal Kingdom theatre at Walt Disney World...
... as well as the songs for the 2011 "Winnie The Pooh" movie...
... and Lopez also teamed up with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to write the phenomenally successful (and incredibly bad-taste) Broadway Musical "The Book of Mormon."

For Frozen, Robert and Kristen went for an unabashed Broadway style, recalling the classics of the earlier Disney Renaissance. The soundtrack has become phenomenally successful, with songs like "Let It Go," "Do You Want To Build A Snowman" and "Love Is An Open Door" being sung all over the world, parodied endlessly on YouTube and slipping into the worldwide lexicon in a way that hadn't been seen since "Hakuna Matata."

I wouldn't go so far as to say it's Disney's best soundtrack - "Frozen Heart" and "Fixer-Upper" are relatively forgettable - but when it hits, it hits hard. "Let It Go" is a song for the ages, up there with Idina Menzel's other classic standard "Defying Gravity" which, ironically, was also sung by a girl with mysterious magic powers who had decided to leave the world behind and go out on her own.

I can remember months before Frozen's release at the August D23 fan event, Idina Menzel premiered "Let It Go" to audiences for the first time, and immediately the internet was buzzing that this song was going to be huge. I nodded and thought, "yeah, whatever." I was actually convinced that the age of mainstream socially accepted Disney musicals was well-and-truly over. But oh, how wrong I was!

It's actually impossible to say if a movie like Frozen has stood the test of time; it's only been around for just over a year! But I have no doubt that as the decades pass, this movie will be on constant rotation in D.V.D. and Blu-Ray players all over the world. Kids love it. Adults love it. It is a global phenomenon. Something about this movie just hit a home run with audiences, and they cannot get enough of it!

Disney knows how to milk a hit when it has one! Apart from the huge Frozen presence at the Disney parks, the wonderful new short "Frozen Fever" was shown before the recent "Cinderella" cinema release. A Broadway adaptation has already been announced, as has an official movie sequel. Whether these capture the bottled lightning of the film remains to be seen.

But with the release of Frozen, it was made clear to the entire world: Disney was back, and it was bigger than ever!

PASCAL: OMG, this is my favourite!

IRVYNE: Of all time?

PASCAL: Of all time!


PASCAL: Because it's got everything! It makes me laugh. It makes me want to cry. (I didn't cry this time though, I was very good...) It has awesome sidekicks. I love Olaf! And I love Sven! And it's all about girl-power! They don't NEED the boys to fix their problems! I love the costumes. I love the artwork. I love the snow. I just love everything!

MALEFICENT: It's not true-love's kiss that solves the problem in the end, it goes to show that the love between siblings can have power as well.

IRVYNE: Yeah, this film bucks a few traditions. I do love the twist at the end where the hero is racing against time to save the day, and he's really not required at all.

MERRYWEATHER: And he's not on a white steed, he's the Valient Pungent Reindeer King!

MALEFICENT: Olaf annoys me. Just puttin' it out there. I don't like his shape, I don't like his voice and I just don't like his concept.

IRVYNE: Yeah, here's the thing. I love Josh Gad. I saw him playing Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon in New York, and he was absolutely brilliant. But I find with repeat watchings of Frozen, I'm getting more and more irritated with Olaf.

PASCAL: Really? Why?

IRVYNE: Because a lot of the things that made me laugh out loud the first time don't make me laugh out loud at anymore.

PASCAL: Oh, I still laugh!

IRVYNE: A few of his lines just fall flat, and feel a bit bewildering. Like "I don't have a skull." There's nothing in that line that's actually funny. It's like a wind-up waiting for a punchline. Some are still funny. I love the "Oh, I'm impaled" line.

PASCAL: You're just a grumpy old man!

IRVYNE: You have to admit though, Olaf serves no real plot purpose whatsoever. Oh no wait. He unlocks a door. That's the only important thing he does in the entire movie. Apart from that, he is as blatant as comic relief can get.

MALEFICENT: Sven the reindeer is hilarious though.

IRVYNE: Yes he is. I love Sven. Though to play devil's advocate again, a lot of his gags were poached from Maximus in Tangled! Look kids! Instead of a horse who acts like a dog, it's a reindeer who acts like a dog! Although I do love the way Sven speaks to Kristoff.

HAKU: Watching it today made me realise how much more I prefer Wreck-It Ralph.

IRVYNE: Something that I forgot to say when we watched Wreck-It Ralph, and it also applies to Frozen, is that they both have unpredictable plots. With both of these movies, I can remember sitting in the cinema, halfway through the first viewing thinking to myself, "I don't actually know where this is going!"

MERRYWEATHER: Is that because it's not based on a well-known fairy-tale?

IRVYNE: Probably. With the classics like Cinderella, Aladdin, even The Lion King, they all feel like they're constantly heading towards a logical conclusion. Whereas these ones don't.

PASCAL: That's true. They feel like there's spanners being thrown in the works.

IRVYNE: For example, with Wreck-It Ralph, the main character wants a medal. That's his goal. He achieves that goal halfway through the movie, whereas with most regular story arcs he would achieve his goal at the end. With Frozen, I remember feeling really conflicted on my first viewing, knowing that Anna had a genuinely sweet and loving relationship with Hans, and yet she was clearly being set up to fall in love with Kristoff. I had no idea how that was going to play out in the end! I have to admit, I was disappointed that Hans ended up being the baddy. His character literally turns on a dime. He's a caring, gallant, lovely person, and then all of a sudden he changes his mind and becomes and evil murderer.

HAKU: You're right, there are no signposts at all.

PASCAL: He never has an evil twinkle in his eye or anything!

MALEFICENT: He even does a happy little sigh when he first meets Anna, like he's actually fallen in love.

IRVYNE: And when he's helping the townsfolk out in Anna's absense, he looks legitimately concerned for the peoples' wellbeing. It could easily be argued that the big reveal wouldn't have such an impact if people guessed it early, but as it is, he goes from hero to villain in the space of half a second with no reason except that the plot needs a villain. Poor Hans. There's no love for ranggas in this world!

HAKU: You were saying something during "Let It Go" about the castle?

IRVYNE: Yeah, I was saying I can't wait to see what they do with that scene when it gets to Broadway. You just know Disney's going to invest a gazillion dollars into that production! And that will be the big magic moment!

PASCAL: Well they've GOT a gazillion dollars from the film sales!

MERRYWEATHER: And the merchandise!

MALEFICENT: It's a beautiful-looking movie. I like the patterns of Elsa's magic.

IRVYNE: You should have a play around with the Disney Animation app on the iPad. You can create your own Elsa magic!

HAKU: It's got the best music in the entire Disney catalogue.

WENDY: Oh yeah.

IRVYNE: Really...? I think it's got a couple of killer songs, but it's got a couple of "eh" songs as well.

PASCAL: No, I love all the songs.

HAKU: Even though it's not Number One favourite for all of us, there's something about this film that has really resonated with lots and lots of people.

IRVYNE: Oh yeah! It's a modern cinematic phenomenon! Even the film's directors don't know what they did that made people love so much!

HAKU: It's some combination of story and music and visuals that just clicked.

SHENZI: Girl-power!

IRVYNE: Yeah, like Pascal was saying before, for girls it's the ultimate chick-flick!

PASCAL: It is very girly.

HAKU: But its popularity goes beyond gender.

IRVYNE: Well yeah, look at the soldiers cheering on Elsa!

PASCAL: There are good boy characters as well.

MALEFICENT: Do you know what it is? There hasn't been a movie this good in the past ten years.

IRVYNE: I disagree with that. I think Tangled is a better movie than Frozen.

MERRYWEATHER: The songs aren't as good in Tangled.

MALEFICENT: I can't remember any of the Tangled songs.

IRVYNE: Well yeah. Tangled doesn't have a "Let It Go." I think Frozen has the better songs. But as for characters and storytelling, I think Tangled is a much better movie.

HAKU: But there is something that has made Frozen a whole other level of success, that Tangled just didn't have.

IRVYNE: There's the girl-power thing, which we discussed. There's the INSANE catchiness of "Let It Go," the song which became a worldwide phenomenon on its own. It has a fresh look; the ice-and-snow theme hadn't really been done in animation before.

HAKU: Do you think it might have something to do with the actors?

MERRYWEATHER: They're not very well-known.

MALEFICENT: Outisde of the theatre world, not many people would know who they are. Little kids certainly wouldn't.

SHENZI: Idina Menzel was on Glee.

IRVYNE: Yeah, but I wouldn't say she's mainstream-famous... So, final thoughts?


PASCAL: It's the best!

MALEFICENT: It's good, but not at the top of the list.

IRVYNE: I'm the same. I think Frozen is really good. It's a very enjoyable movie. But I don't think it's the best... Cool! All right then everyone, time to let it go. ;-)